Mamma Giulia is in charge of all kitchen goings-on at Masseria Provenzani. She starts early each morning preparing breakfast for the masseria's guests. Guests wake to scents of bread, brioche and sometimes a crostata, or two. The communal breakfast table is full of Mamma Giulia's baked goods and homemade jams. And the beverages add to the intoxicating aromas wafting through the air; there's espresso, cappucino or hot chocolate to wash down the delicious breads.
We met up with Mamma Giulia as she was clearing the breakfast table, just in time to taste some of the leftovers - a creamy ricotta crostata and a cherry one. Small in stature with a soft voice to match, she serves Pugliese homecooking from the masseria's rustic kitchen. She gathered us around the marble island in the center of the kitchen. We were surrounded by pans, utensils and peperoncini hanging from three walls. The fourth wall consisted of ceiling-to-floor glass windows that looked out onto the masseria's lush gardens. Breads of Salento and orecchiette pasta were on the menu for our day's cooking lesson.
Making Salentine Breads
Mamma Giulia speaks only Italian, but she spoke slowly and carefully demonstrated each step. This made her easy to understand, even for the non-Italian speaker. Missteps on our part were treated with clicks of her tongue and gentle corrections. She would come next to us and correct us by quietly showing the correct way to do it. We combined flour, yeast, water and salt to make bread dough. She had quantities for flour, yeast and salt, but insisted that there was no exact measurement for the water. "The amount of water needed depends on the temperature, humidity and the flour itself. You know how much water you need by the feel of the dough." She told us.
From the dough, we made three types of bread. Focaccia Salentina is Salento's version of a calzone. Thin layers of focaccia bread sandwich a filling. While the dough was rising, we sauteed onions and tomatoes for our filling, but Mamma Giulia pointed out that we could fill the focaccia with anything we'd like. Rollng the dough out fairly thinly, we placed it in a round pan, added the filling and folded over the other half of the dough to cover.
We also made puccie (plural for puccia). Puccie are round bread rolls that come in two sizes; rounds that are about six inches in diameter or small golfball-sized rounds. Whole unpitted olives are kneaded into the dough, and usually so are tomatoes, giving the bread its classical orange hue. Lastly, we made a traditional Salentine focaccia topped with tomatoes and oregano.
Orecchiette (meaning little ears) is the quintessential pasta of Puglia. I think it's a requirement of all Pugliese mamme to master the art of making orecchiette by hand because every Pugliese mamma who I've met makes these, and makes it look easy. Flipping the curled pasta over your thumb to create the little ears is no easy task. Mamma Giulia rolled the dough out into a long snake-like strip. With what seemed like one continuous motion, she cut a piece from the dough, rolled a knife over the dough, and turned the curled piece of dough over her thumb to form the orecchiette. One after the other, she quickly turned out at least 10 little ears to my one, but we eventually had enough for our lunch.
Mamma Giulia made a simple tomato sauce to dress the orecchiette. She slowly heated garlic in olive oil, Neapolitan style, then added the tomatoes. The orecchiette held the tomatoe sauce nicely, holding little puddles of sauce inside the cupped part of the "little ears."
Our "small" afternoon meal included an antipasti of the various cheeses we had picked up earlier at Masseria CinqueSanti, and the food we had made with Mamma Giulia; the orecchiette with a garlic tomato sauce and our three types of bread. For dessert, we had a few more pieces of the crostata left from earlier that morning. Mamma Giulia's recipe for the orecchiette and the sauce is below.
Mamma Giulia's Handmade Orecchiette with Garlic Tomato Sauce
For the Pasta:
1 pound (450 grams) semolina flour
About ½ cup tepid water*
*Mamma Giulia would not give an exact measurement on the water, but this is a good starting point
For the Sauce:
6 to 8 cloves garlic with skins left on
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Two 28 ounce cans San Marzano tomatoes
Salt, to taste
Grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese for the garnish
To make the pasta:
With the flour, make a well. Add half of the water to the center of the well, and slowly mix the flour into the center of the well with your hands. Add more water as necessary until the dough comes together. It should not be sticky but moist and soft. Knead for a few minutes until all the flour and water combine to make a smooth dough. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes.
To make the orecchiette, roll the dough out into a long snake-like strip about 1/4 inch in diameter. Cut a strip about 1/2 inches long. With a butter knife (one that has teeth, but dull teeth), roll the tooth side of the knife down and over the cut strip of pasta. This will form a rolled piece of dough, also known as cavatelli. Turn the curved piece of dough over your thumb to form the little ear. Set aside and repeat until you've used all the dough.
To make the sauce: On low heat, slowly heat the garlic and olive oil in a sauce pot. Once the garlic is toasted, a golden color, add the tomatoes and salt. Bring the sauce to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Cook for about 20 minutes, until the sauce is a consistency you want. Taste and adjust for seasoning. You can remove the garlic cloves, which will have remained whole, from the sauce before serving.
Cook the orecchiette in well salted boiling water until the pasta is al dente. Dress with the tomato sauce and top with grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Buon Appetito!
****Cook and eat with me in Puglia! The Food Lover's Culinary Tour in Puglia - We'll be cooking with Italian mammas like Giulia, making orecchiette, other Pugliese pasta and much more!****
This post is part of Wanderfood Wednesdays - Travelers and food lovers share their culinary travels from around the world.